"Only been taking HCF for about 3 weeks…I still feel like me, but without the overbearing stress and anxiousness that I was feeling just three weeks ago…"
"I must be some kind of unusual mixture between an introvert and an extrovert. There are times, situations and certain places that I fit both completely different personality types to a tee.
In my opinion, it seems tied primarily to my emotional state. When I’m feeling well rested and energized, I tend to be very outgoing and engaging. I’m an environmental consultant and a big part of my job is business development and managing relationships with clients. I love meeting with people and getting to know what they do—the type of business they’re in, hobbies, family, whatever. I just like connecting with people.
However, like anyone else, I can get overextended. When I get to a point where my list of things to do is impossible to accomplish or I feel like I’m simply stretched way too thin personally, professionally or both, it can lead to the overwhelming stress and anxiousness of everyday. I’ve had two separate episodes in my life where that stress and anxiousness built into a very serious anxiousness that lead to deep sadness.
One episode occurred about 10 years ago and took place over the course of 2 summers. My wife and I had two boys and had just built a house. We did our own general contracting and much of the actual work ourselves. It took about 10 months and we lived in a single bedroom with my parents during construction. In the middle of building our house, our second son was born—about two weeks after I tore one of my achilles tendons playing basketball. It was during this same period that I received a promotion with more responsibilities at work. I made it through everything “okay.” It was the following summer that I broke down under the stress of trying to balance my personal time. I’m sure work played a role (because I was a people pleaser, so I was always taking on more than I could handle), but what I remember most was trying to balance all the outside work of a new house (landscaping, etc.) with spending time with my wife and 2 young sons.
The pressure built to the point where I began walking up in the middle of night.
First at 4:00am, than 3:00am, than 2:00am—regardless of what time I went to sleep. I would wake up and be wide awake. I had no idea what was happening. It felt like my heart was beating about 200 times per minute and I was wide awake—there was no chance of falling back to sleep. Usually I would end up with an upset stomach, and I started losing weight. The combination of stress, sleep loss and no appetite quickly took a toll. It went on for several weeks, and I battled it. I did not know what else to do. I didn’t tell my wife—I had no idea what was going on. Just that I kept walking up and could not sleep, and that whatever chemical reaction was occurring during my heart-racing episodes seemed to affect my stomach and turn it rotten—completely eliminating my desire for food. I eventually broke down completely. I sobbed at just about everything. I finally called a relative of mine that I knew had dealt with anxiousness issues and described what I was going through. I ended up taking some unnatural alternatives. About the same time I started up on these alternatives, the season started to change and fall turned into winter, and with that my outdoor chores ended and I could spend most of my free time with my family—playing games and watching movies.
At the time, I thought it was the unnatural alternatives, but I realize now, it was the change in my environment and what was required of me. I weaned off the unnatural alternatives the following spring, and dealt with the same issue that summer, although not to the same degree. That fall, I met one time with a counselor from church. He looked me in the eye, said “Bob, you’re a child of God. You don’t have to live under this kind of everyday stress and anxiousness.” I started spending time reading my Bible and in prayer every day. The everyday stress and anxiousness melted away.
Over the next 10 years, I had periodic episodes of everyday stress – busy and stressful times at work, events at home, etc. But nothing of the serious variety that lead to deep sadness like that one summer.
That is, until 3 years ago. In the spring of 2010 I was offered a promotion at work. Life was great at the time—I was very content with my job, my personal life—things just seemed perfect. I received a call from a colleague at work that was higher up the food chain than me. He said the office manager for my state was being let go, and asked if I wanted to take on the role. The role was also being redefined to line up with new expectations established during a recent complete company reorganization. I was being asked to continue serving as a senior technical resource, designing remediation strategies and serving as the first line of response during emergency response to pipeline spills—something I loved to do. Added to my new role were: an increase from one staff level direct report to five Project Managers direct reports, management of company operations in Michigan and Indiana (2 fixed office locations, several satellite offices and 25-30 staff) as well as client account and relationship management.
I never discussed the offer with my wife. I did not take the time to pray about the offer. I did not even ask for some time to think about it. In my mind I thought “this is what I’ve been working for, right?” If I don’t take this, then what?
I accepted the offer right then over the phone. I later found out the promotion was of the more work variety—not the increase in pay kind. In essence I took on three roles, all for the same salary I had been making, which I knew to be $30k less than the office manager I was replacing.
To make a long story a little shorter. “Stuff” hit the fan, we had five pipeline spill responses in my region in 2010—two of which were massive and essentially took over my life. In addition, I was tasked with finding a way to increase profitability for a client that represented 90+% of our work in MI and IN, a client for whom we had very poor bill rates and a contract that my company had absolutely no control over. It basically boiled to cutting salaries or letting people go and finding cheaper replacements—neither of which I felt were right moves for the company based on the business development plans that we had in place. I was receiving 200-300 emails per day, the phone was ringing off the hook for these big spills—spills that resulted in legal orders from US EPA, so the sites were very high profile and extremely tight schedules—the client said jump and I said “how high?” By the way, it was the same client with the poor bill rates. So I’m slaving away for them, all the while my company is losing money and my boss is pressuring me to increase profitability.
Even with all that going on, I felt the extreme pressure, but the return to very serious anxiousness still caught me off guard. I started waking up at 4:00 am; but it wasn’t every night and I could justify the nights it did happen. In the beginning, the periodic sleepless night did not appear to have a serious impact on me. I felt tired, but was able to get rolling and make it through the day fine. Slowly over time, the sleepless nights began to build and become more frequent. By November of 2010, I was right back to waking up every single night at 4:00am, and then 3:00am, and then 2:00am. Back to the rotten stomach. And back to the overwhelming feeling of anxiousness.
In the fall/winter of 2010, I was able to work through it. It took several months, but eventually we got the big pipeline spills under control and I was able to hand them off to other staff. I was only getting 2-3 hours of restlessness sleep each night—sometimes, I would not sleep at all. Not one wink—I would lay that way with my body literally “buzzing”. I did not want to take unnatural substances again. I don’t know why I didn’t want to take it, because it had worked 10 years prior, and I did not have any major side effects that I could recall. But for some reason, that I still can’t explain today, I did not want to take it. So I took a different unnatural substance, and a daily dose of another to deal with the moments of anxiousness.
That first winter I switched between several different unnatural substances. I would anxiously wait for 3-4 weeks, begging for some sign that it was working, and then I would switch to a different one. I finally worked my way back to a certain unnatural substance because it was the cheapest.
I took these for 4 months with what seemed to be no difference to me at the time. I slowly started sleeping better, but that could have just as easily been from the lack of responsibility as I slipped from anxiousness and serious sadness. By late February, early March I just quit taking the unnatural substances. I was still taking one substance as needed, but I cold turkey quit taking the biggest unnatural substance. By the end of March, the weather here in Michigan started to change and I started feeling better. By mid-April, I felt completely normal. Sleeping great, all night. Full appetite. Full return of my desire for work and my family.
My first 4:00am wake up in the fall of 2011 happened in September or October. I thought it was a fluke and kept grinding away. By early November, I was right back where I had been the previous November. Sitting in some experts office, sleepless every night, pouring out my life story to some stranger in hopes for a pill that would make it all go away. You know the story. It did not go away, it got worse. The anxiousness and resulting sadness was worse than 2010.
God was my only hope for survival, and true to His word, His mercy was sufficient and by His grace I lived to see spring of 2012. Little did I realize at the time, but my manager, the one crying for better rates—that we had achieved with a new contract with that big oil client—had already begun to execute a plan to eliminate me from the company. My role was changed. I gave up the office lead responsibilities in order to focus on business development and engineering support. I thought we were making great progress, when in August of 2012 my boss said I wasn’t meeting expectations for that big client and reduced my role to a PM. Needless to say, my first sleepless night came the very next day. I had honestly thought with the loss of the office management assignment, that my level of “pressure” had been sufficiently reduced to avoid the relapse into serious anxiousness. Even with the unexpected kick in the %@!!$ from my boss in August, I was still shocked how soon and how quickly the anxiousness built.
By the middle of September I was seeking more so-called expert help and back on all kinds of unnatural substances this time, and back on the hard stuff. The third time proved to be the charm and came the closest to taking my life. I was so freaked out with anxiousness that I literally could not do my job—I would hide in various places in my office building and curl up in the fetal position. I would seek any relief into the world of sleep, where for an hour or two, my anxiousness and sadness couldn’t touch me and I could be at peace. Only to walk up to hell again. I can remember with agonizing clarity the feeling of waking and for 1/2 second thinking maybe it was just a horrible dream, and then the fear would wash over me.
I took a personal leave of absence under FMLA in November 2012. I spent the next 3 months or so hanging onto life by a thread. I wanted to die. I saw no reason to live. I kept telling myself that the only reason I couldn’t kill myself was because of the impact it would have on my wife and children. At the time, I felt even that to be a lie and I kept telling myself that the true reason I didn’t kill myself was because I was too much of a coward to do it. I don’t know how my family survived. I went to the gates of hell and back, but the part that really hurt was the impact it had on my family—on my wonderful wife and kids, and on my parents. It is only by God’s grace that I’m still alive. It’s only because of the kind of healing that only God can provide that my wife did not leave me and take our children.
The past two winters, I had run to God and poured out my heart as a last resort as my anxiousness built into horrible sadness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I turned into an animal the rest of the year. I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs or cheat on my wife or lie or cheat or steal. I did what I felt was right. I always tried my best to be honest and a man of integrity. But my heart was never in the right place. I was never doing it for God, it was always for me. I did what I thought was right so I would succeed. So I would be rewarded.
My entire world changed on a Sunday in April 2013. I was in church like I had been almost every Sunday. I had just begun to feel a little better, leading me to believe all the more that there might be some seasonal link. As I mentioned above, over the past two winters I had focused more closely on my relationship with God. I would read my Bible and other faith-based books on self help or healing (you name a book that promised help from anxiousness and sadness and I was checking it out). But this spring didn’t feel the same. The past two springs I would reach a point where I would feel the weight sort of lift. Almost like God had said okay, that’s enough. I believe with all my heart, because it says so in the Bible, that God does not tempt us. But God does deliver. And like I said, there was a point each spring where it felt God had said it was enough and He pulled me up out of the muck.
In March of 2013, I was given my annual performance evaluation at work. For the first time in 15 years, I did not receive outstanding marks for at least a portion of my role or assignment. I expected my review to have challenges, but I was not prepared for the message that basically nothing I did in 2012 met expectations. My track record for pipeline response led to a contract with a large pipeline operator in 2012, and I played the key role in getting my company under contract with another major oil company. When I asked about those accomplishments, I was given the wave of a hand, as is they didn’t matter. I immediately requested a meeting with my boss’ manager, who was a Vice President of the company. He was someone who knew what I had gone through and could relate to some degree because his wife had also suffered from anxiousness and sadness. He had always had my back because he knew what I could bring to the table.
I waited several meetings for a meeting that was never to be. On a Thursday afternoon around 4:00pm, my former boss (I had been assigned to a different manager, someone who had been my peer before) asked me to step into a conference room. My new boss was there and the VP was on the phone, as was the general manager of Human Resources. My new boss read from a letter prepared by Human Resources. I was offered a role that was two full levels below my position and a significant salary reduction. I looked at my former boss and asked the VP what was going on. I had been told that we would have a meeting to discuss my 2012 performance review. I was told that was in the past. They had already discussed it, and my input was not necessary or desired. This was the offer on the table, and I should take it or leave it. I went back to my desk and read through the letter myself. I went back to my former boss and my new boss and asked to meet again. I did not get the VP back on the phone. I reminded them of my contributions over 15 years to the firm. I wasn’t being cocky, my attitude was not one of arrogance. I was basically pleading with them not to do this. Not to force my hand like this. I told them I still had a lot to offer. My former boss just smiled his smile, told me that they had carefully considered everything, including my contributions to the company and they felt this was the proper course of action. I have since looked back on the events of those three years and recalled the stories of several employees who told of how once my boss wrote you off, that was it. He would work quietly and discreetly and always appear to be the consummate professional, but he would be developing an exit plan and begin working it. And eventually, he would get you out of the organization. I think now it may have been some kind of challenge—maybe he even enjoyed it.
I had been given the weekend to decide if I wanted to accept the reduced role and pay or take a severance package. I kept trying to justify finding a way to stay. I keep trying to convince myself that I could get back to doing what I enjoyed and what I did best—the technical and relationship management side. My dear wife, who never left my side through all those dark days, asked me to pause and stop looking at it as a threat; but to try looking at it as opportunity. It would be a major step of faith to quit a job after just having suffered the months long episodes of anxiousness and sadness—three winters in a row. To quit a job, that even with the reduced pay was still great pay—pay that the vast majority of Americans would cherish dearly. To quit a job without another job waiting in the wings.
I was not confident in the choice to leave, but I trusted the advice of my wife and my parents. I trusted the way I felt deep down inside when I thought about staying or leaving.
Back to that Sunday in April. The first Sunday after I had accepted the severance and officially had “resigned” and took that step of faith, I went up to the altar during an altar call at the end of the Sunday morning service. As I mentioned above, the past two winters, I had clung to any and all hope of immediate healing from God of my condition. I would alternate between clenched fists and arms reaching for heaven, like a child begging to be picked up by their daddy. The past two winters, I would pour out my heart and cry before the Lord. Tears would flow like a river from my eyes.
This spring of 2013 was different. There were not many tears. I felt like I had gone too far this time. Surely God had had enough of rescuing me. I kept returning to my selfish ways, so it was time to live in the mess I had created. I had always gone up for the altar call expecting something to happen, trying to make something happen. If I just cried out, if I closed my eyes tighter, if I prayed more earnestly in the spirit, surely I’ll get that feeling of release, that feeling of rescue I had felt the previous times.
Our pastor had been teaching for several weeks on finding your purpose in life—God’s plan for you – it wasn’t just about you, God wanted to co-labor together. He shared about the stages of life—childhood, adolescence and becoming an adult; and how the Christian experience follows that same design. How God wants us to mature. How like little children must endure suffering to grow (think hot stove), we also must endure suffering. Granted, not everyone follows the same path. Some of us are more hard-headed than others.
I was standing there that Sunday morning, and I just went limp. I stopped trying to make something happen. I stopped trying so hard to feel something. I just stood there and waited. I just stood there with an open heart. And my pastor said these words and I’m paraphrasing, “someone was wondering what happened to their confidence and was trying to figure out how to get their confidence back—that’s me, always trying to go it alone—but…it is not about restoring your confidence in yourself, it’s about restoring your confidence in God to accomplish His work in and through you.” It felt like a tidal wave hit me. Like some kind of rush of wind or water just blew right over and through me. Like something had just hit me and knocked the wind out of me. I felt the presence of the Lord all over me. Like He not only picked me up, but He held me in His arms. This wasn’t and had never been about me. It had always been about control. Who was going to have control in my life. Was I going to go my way or God’s way.
I’m not saying I’m there yet. God is still working in me every day. The single largest impact on my daily life is how I start my day. Whether I start it by giving Him thanks, by reading His Word, or if I just get about my business.
I truly believe that without faith, it is impossible to please God. And I also believe that God expects us as humans to be good stewards, especially good stewards of our body and our mind.
Over the past 13 years, I have always kept my eye open for anything that would aid in my struggle with everyday stress and anxiousness. I know that my only true hope lies in God’s grace and His truth. And that my personal key to avoiding the pitfall of anxiousness and sadness ultimately lies with the condition of my heart. Not what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, but WHY I’m doing it. What is the condition of my heart? Am I seeking the Lord and doing things to please Him or just because I feel it’s the right thing to do, or am I doing it because I want to be recognized – I want other people to see what I’ve done and think highly of me? Or am I doing it simply because I’m trying to get something in return from God. If I do this, surely God will do that. What’s the expectation? Why am I doing it? What’s my motivation?
As I’ve alluded to several times, I believe there is a natural world and a spiritual world – that there is a natural order and a spiritual order. But while we’re in this earthen vessel, God expects us to treat it as the holy vessel. After all, we believe to God. He created everything. He expects us to be good stewards of our bodies, and all that entails—a proper diet, exercise and sleep. I also realize that as humans, we all have strengths and weaknesses. One of my many weaknesses appears to be my thoughts and emotions and the havoc I can wreak on my own nervous system. God is working His plan in that area of my life, but He also expects me to do my part.
My hope is that HCF will continue to help fulfill a piece of the nutrient part of the natural equation. I have only been taking HCF for about 3 weeks.† I honestly have not felt any noted increase in happiness or sudden joy in tasks I previously did not relish. What I have noticed, however, is that it’s August 26 and I still feel great. I still feel like me, but without the overbearing stress and anxiousness that I was feeling just three weeks ago.†* I’m an engineer so I’m familiar with cycles, with patterns. In 2010, I hit the wall in October/November. In 2011, it was September/October. In 2012, it was August/September. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the pattern. And yet, here it is August 26.
I believe with all my heart that God is the reason. I also hope that in my personal stewardship of taking care of my mind and my body, HCF will continue to cross the BBB and deliver the amino acids and nutrients necessary to overcome depletion of key neurotransmitters from stress and help keep me chemically balanced.*
That is my hope. This is part of my testimony—of His story :)"
– Bob P., White Lake, MI, August 26, 2013